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Our body has its own mechanism to regulate active and resting patterns throughout the day. At the end of the day, our body cycle releases certain hormones that induce sleep and help us wake up the next day, well-rested. However, some people have trouble falling asleep due to various reasons. In kids, this onset of insomnia may cause developmental delays and growth problems. Also, lack of sleep can become detrimental as it can affect their attention and learning ability at school.
If you have tried just about everything to no avail, including a change of behavioural strategies, you may now be considering giving your child a dose of melatonin. In such cases, it is necessary to be well-informed and know all the facts and figures about melatonin.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body, specifically in the pineal gland that is meant to regulate sleep. The hormone regulates sleep patterns in accordance with the circadian rhythm based on exposure to light and darkness. The amount of melatonin rises in the body during the night and decreases around morning, contributing to the sleep-wake cycle.
When the pineal gland is unable to produce melatonin, the child’s sleep may no longer follow a 24-hour clockwork and bring in the need for melatonin supplements.
Is Melatonin Safe for Children?
Melatonin, when used in moderate dosages for a short-term and prescribed by a professional physician, is safe for children. However, there has been no relevant research made about the long-term use of melatonin in children. Certain studies have noticed that, when used in animals, melatonin caused a delay in puberty; however, there is no evidence to prove the claim in humans.
Usage of Melatonin for Kids
Children with neurodevelopmental conditions like autism, ADHD, or visual impairment, who have trouble falling asleep can benefit from melatonin. For children with anxiety who have trouble sleeping, other methods should be considered before settling on synthetic melatonin.
Melatonin supplements only induce sleep and do not offer confirmed continued sleep. Also, children who cannot sleep due to light-emitting devices will not be benefited from melatonin, as these devices are known to suppress melatonin.
When Your Child Should Take Melatonin
It is best to give your child melatonin about 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. A surge in melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime can help induce sleep effectively. You may also want to try out different timings to see what works best for your kid.
Melatonin Dosage for Children
Depending on the nature of your kid’s condition, the dose may vary from 0.5mg to 6mg. Most children respond to as little as 0.5mg of melatonin. Even for kids who have recurrent problems falling asleep, you will not need more than 3 to 6mg of the melatonin tablet. Liquid melatonin is also an option for kids. Consult your paediatrician to determine the right amount of melatonin based on your child’s needs.
Sticking to the prescribed dose is important as melatonin, as with several other medicines, poses risks if taken in excess.
Risks of Melatonin Overdose
An overdose of melatonin in kids may result in nausea, dizziness, headache, irritability, anxiety, and diarrhoea. Excessive use of melatonin can also affect the circadian rhythm of the child.
When Should You Avoid Melatonin?
Avoid melatonin usage in kids if they:
- Are younger than three years old.
- Have insomnia that is caused due to anxiety or situational reasons, like school, exams, etc.
- If the insomnia is caused due to physical or medical conditions like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, etc.
- If the insomnia is due to short-term reason like ill-health, ear-infection, etc.
- Have bleeding disorders, or conditions like diabetes, depression, seizures, and high blood pressure
It is always recommended that you try out all the other methods to treat insomnia, like a change in diet, lifestyle, activities and behavioural patterns before giving melatonin to the kids. It is always better to try alternative methods to cut down the risks of side effects, some of which are given below.
Side-Effects of Melatonin
While melatonin is a natural supplement, it can cause the following side-effects:
- Drowsiness throughout the day
- Lower body temperature
- Visual imagery or vivid dreams
- Stomach pain
These side effects usually occur when a high dose of melatonin is given to the child.
Natural melatonin supplements are available for children in 1mg dosages in chewable forms. It is advised to consult a doctor before administering melatonin supplements to children.
Which Foods Are Rich In Melatonin?
Melatonin can be supplemented in children using food items for more natural methods of boosting melatonin.
Tryptophan is an amino acid which gets converted to serotonin, before converting to melatonin that induces sleep. Some of the food items rich in tryptophan are:
- Lean meat like chicken and turkey.
- Dairy products like milk, cheese, low-fat yoghurt.
- Seafood like sardines, shrimp, cod, salmon, etc.
- Seeds and nuts like almonds, peanuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, etc.
- Legumes such as chickpeas and kidney beans.
- Fruits like avocados, apples, peaches, bananas, etc.
- Green vegetables like spinach, asparagus, broccoli, turnip greens, etc.
- Grains such as rice, wheat, barley, oats, etc.
- Calcium-rich foods like okra, soybeans can also help the brain make melatonin.
- Vitamin B6 in pistachio nuts, dried prunes can convert tryptophan into melatonin.
- Warm milk, peppermint tea, chamomile tea, passion fruit tea can also help to improve sleep patterns.
Ensure that you avoid giving your kids caffeine products or heavy meals before bed to prevent any disturbance in their sleep.
Melatonin supplements, when used in moderate dosages, are safe for children. However, it is important that you reach out to a seasoned paediatrician to determine how much melatonin your child can take. Also, before getting melatonin supplements for your child, ensure to try out alternative measures to promote sleep. Identify the root cause of insomnia and treat it accordingly.
Always remember – Never self medicate with melatonin. Only if all methods fail to give satisfactory results, reach out to a doctor and get a prescription for melatonin.